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Playing Games of Despair

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Chapter 1: Humankind’s Reckoning

Dart, still collapsed on the floor, could only watch from afar. As much as he willed his body to move, it did not respond. His skull also appeared to be cracked, and he could feel warm, sticky blood streaming down the side of his face.

Is this how it was all going to end for me? All the hard work I’d put in to reach this point... Was it in vain? Is there no justice here, only luck? Alex was stronger than me, and he died too. How can I compete in this tournament, when I can’t protect anyone? I’m too weak. I’ve always been. I haven’t changed at all. I’m useless. Dying would be so much easier.

There were only two talismans left.

A woman was crawling towards Dart, her legs dragged back by Cerberus’ heads. Her weapon had been lost. She was screaming for Dart’s help, her arms reaching out to Dart. Her eyes were terrified and desperate. Dart could not even lift his body. What could he do? There was a loud crunch as Cerberus bit her leg off at the knee, and then came forward to bite off her head. Cerberus would soon find its way to Dart, and he too will be finished, just like her.

Cerberus’ three hungry heads were right in front of him, snapping noisily.

Dart had accepted his fate. His eyes were closed. He was at peace.

***

The sky burned. Two suns were ablaze in the sky; one had replaced the moon. Around the world, life ground to a halt as sweltering heat led everyone to shelter indoors. Those who ventured out felt an unnatural blistering of their skin. News headlines proclaimed this phenomenon as a sign of the rapture.

The chaos did not bother God. He felt a strange peace that the hostilities of the world were now distracted by a singular threat. He had decided to put mankind out of their misery.

God appeared directly to one and all.

The form he took was unique to each person’s beliefs and cultural contexts—what they subscribed to, what they had conjured in their minds about an almighty creator, and in the language they spoke. Non-believers heard just a voice, with no visual form. Narcissists who had placed themselves on a pedestal saw a twisted version of themselves in absolute authority.

God spoke.

“The two suns that you see are merely illusions, but they demonstrate and prove who I am.

I created this world. Who you see in front of you is your perception of God. I am not one but many, and all of them am I. You are all right to believe in the Creator, and wrong to argue among which of the forms are the truth. They are all me.”

All around the world, piercing screams rang as the masses were shocked by this divine vision. Stunned horror turned into waves of conflicting emotions. Congregations realised that their Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Elohim, Zeus, Shiva, Maha Kaali, the devil… were all real. Yet, none were ready to accept the plurality of one creator.

God continued.

“It is now time for the next step of civilisation. A grand tournament will be held five years from today on 22 June, on Five Knife Island.

Each country will contribute fighters to represent them in this tournament to battle to the death. The winner gets one wish, no matter what it is. The winning country gets to govern the world.

Select your fighters and prepare.”

The second sun vanished.

In just a few unnatural minutes, the revelation had swept the world.

On television, news anchors began to question and debate. People swapped stories of their own experiences and visions. Was it all just a dream? A mass hysteria effect caused by chemical weapons? Reports came in that across nations and seas, the same story was being told: A grand tournament on Five Knife Island in five years’ time. It was preposterous to have fighters fight to the death, the government would never allow it! What would become of the other nations that lost? God’s words threatened to change life as humankind knew it, matter where they stood in life.

Regardless of opinions, interpretation and belief, one thing was for sure—reality was about to shift for all.

***

Location: Country of Vinlan Corp

Vinlan Corp was a country run as a well-oiled plutocratic corporation. Its headquarters was typically the seat of corporate professionalism.

However, not today. The crisis situation room resembled less of the annual board meeting and more like an auction house. The usual gaggle of staffers had been shuffled out of the room for this top secret meeting. The twelve businesspeople who ran the nation were seated around a solid cedar conference table, each with their own gold nameplate titled “Minister”. They were deep in discussion over the announcement of God’s Tournament.

The Head Financial Comptroller, Minister Kwame, presented his plans. He argued for a lockdown on information. What the country needed was a narrative spin; the government would take credit for the phenomenon as a show of strength.

“This situation needs to get under control, or our authority will be under question. We need to assure people that this was our idea,” he said. Minister Amare, Head of Media and Entertainment jumped in, agreeing that it was a good business opportunity and could rake in new income streams.

On the opposite side of the table, support moved towards putting out a statement that discredited the phenomenon. It would serve the country more to reject the grand tournament proposal as a farce that Vinlan Corp would take no part of. If Vinlan Corp lost such a tournament, it would be the end of the nation that they had ruthlessly built.

At the other end of the table, Minister Luke, Head of Logistics was uncertain. “If this is really God, is it up to us?” he contemplated calmly.

A haughty voice unfamiliar to the Ministers breezed through from the entrance.

“The sooner you accept that your interpretations have no say in the matter, the easier it will be for your country. Other countries have already complied and begun coordinating preparations for the event. I strongly urge that you do the same.”

The voice belonged to an exceedingly good-looking man with flowing blonde locks. There was something unearthly about him. He was obviously not a suited-up member of the Ministries, with his medieval tunic and jeans. Minister Fatima, Head of Agriculture, murmured in appreciation of his good looks, only to be quickly shushed.

“Security! Get this man out of this private meeting,” Minister Amare buzzed through the intercom. The machine crackled incoherently.

The mysterious stranger looked around with a slight twinkle in his eye, and strode purposefully towards the nearest chair. “May I sit here?” he put his hand on the back of Minister Jafari’s chair.

Minister Jafari began to object, “No, you may not-” Before he had even completed his sentence, he vanished into thin air.

The stranger swung himself into the seat gracefully, and lifted up Minister Jafari’s mug with the words ‘Happy Birthday, Dad!’. The coffee steam rose as he cleared his throat to speak. He had the room’s undivided attention now.

“My name is Suez and I will be overseeing God’s Tournament. I have come from Xin, Al Tehar and Celtia and they have all agreed to the tournament. As I have said before, this tournament will happen with or without you. This is not up for debate. I am here to make sure we are on the same page.” He twirled a pen around his fingers nimbly as he spoke, and somehow made eye contact with everyone in the room. The room had settled down as he spoke. His gravitas and confidence simply commanded attention. Plus, his stunning appearance and the element of surprise were on his side.

By now, his harsh message—essentially an ultimatum—was sinking in. “You can’t just come here and start making demands,” Minister Amare blurted out, somewhat rudely. Another voice wondered aloud whether he was God himself.

Minister Luke stepped up to take control of the room. Looking directly into Suez’s eyes, his moustache trembling ever so slightly, “Mister Suez, will you please give us some time to process and plan. We will come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“You have one month to resolve your issues. Not more than that.” Suez nodded in agreement.

Minister Mallika, Head of Intelligence, asked the room at large, “Did anyone else forget that Jafari just completely vanished?”

Mallika’s words went unanswered. The Ministers were still stunned by the strangeness of this entire interaction.

“So… it must be convenient to teleport with those powers,” Fatima piped up to lighten the mood as Suez got up from Jafari’s seat.

“I have a car.” Suez brandished his key fob on his way out of the boardroom.

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